Never find yourself and your pet in Dorothy and Toto’s situation. In honor of National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day (yes, there is such a thing!), we’ve put together some steps you can take to protect your pet before, during, and after a natural disaster or house fire. (These won’t, however, protect you from that green-faced witch in the neighborhood.)
Pet Emergency Kit
The first task in your disaster preparedness plan is to make a pet emergency kit. At the very least, the kit should contain some of your pet’s food, veterinary paperwork, medicine, and a recent photo and description of your pet. You may have to board your dog or cat at a kennel until you get settled after a natural disaster or fire, and the facility will require proof that they have current vaccinations. Let’s break down the ideal kit for each of your pets:
- Proof of ownership and ID tags (ownership papers should be in a sealed, airtight container)
- Current photos of your pets, copies of vaccination records, and veterinarian contact info
- 1-3 weeks’ supply of pet food and bottled water, plus bowls and can openers (canned wet food will keep better and provide extra hydration)
- Plastic baggies and cat litter for waste
- Collars, leashes, carriers, and soft muzzles
- Pet first aid kit (items such as gauze to bandage an injury, mild soap and water to disinfect a wound, and an oral dosing syringe or turkey baster for administering the soap and water mix)
- Medications (try to secure an emergency supply from your vet)
- Treats, toys, blankets, and towels
- An emergency contact list (helpful neighbors and/or boarding facilities)
- Other useful items, such as newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags, grooming items, and household bleach
Microchip your pets
Many cats don’t wear collars or identification tags, or they become separated from their collar once lost. Only a microchip can provide permanent identification that cannot fall off, be removed, or become difficult to read. A microchip is not a GPS tracking device; it cannot track your lost pet and tell you its location. Instead, microchipping is a way to identify a pet’s owner in the event the pet is lost and turned in to a shelter or vet. Make sure you register the microchip to connect its ID number to your information. Otherwise, it is useless. Learn more about microchipping your pet.
Evacuation and Travel
Prep travel gear
Before an emergency, assemble your pet travel gear all in one place and figure out an efficient way to carry it. Since traveling with cats (especially for multiple-night hotel stays) involves a lot of gear and many trips back and forth to carry it all, you’ll want to consolidate all the gear you can into one bag—with the exception of the litter supplies, which should be carried separately. Keep leashes and carriers near exits, so you can restrain your dog or cat in the event of an urgent escape. Learn more about traveling with your cat.
Designate a pet buddy
Designate one family member to be responsible for each pet. Make sure you know each pet’s hiding places. During a fire or natural disaster, your pets will be frightened and will hide to feel safe. The better you know where to search, the more time you’ll have to collect your pet and get out of the house safely.
Practice your 2-minute escape plan
Practice escaping from your home (or taking shelter, in the case of a tornado) with all of your pets properly restrained and emergency kits in hand. Aim to escape in two minutes or less. Be sure to have a designated meeting place near your home where you can account for each person and pet.
Place a rescue sticker or Pet Alert sign in your front window
Whether it’s a fire, earthquake, or flooding, you may find yourself in the especially unfortunate situation of having to evacuate before you can secure your pets. Placing a rescue sticker or Pet Alert sign (found at pet stores or free from nonprofit animal organizations) can save pets’ lives. They let fire crews know that you have pets inside the house, how many, and what kind. Make sure the number of pets listed is always up to date. If you successfully evacuate with all of your pets, notify rescue personnel so they’re not searching for them.
In Case Of…
If you must evacuate without your pet, leave a door open that leads to the outside. Once you’re out of the house, call your pet’s name. Alert firefighters to the potential your pet is still inside the house and search any common outdoor places your pet might already be hiding. Learn more about pet fire safety.
Hurricane or Flooding
If you choose not to evacuate the area following a hurricane or flood watch, bring your pets inside. During a storm, put your pet in a carrier or crate. Make sure you use waterproof containers in your pet emergency kit.
Sometimes there isn’t a lot of warning to take shelter before a tornado hits. Again, at the first sign of inclement weather, bring your pets inside and put them in a carrier or crate. Take them with you to the basement or another tornado-proof area of the house. Move dangerous items such as tools or toxic products that have been stored in the area, and stay away from windows.
Just as people are instructed to drop, cover, and hold on during an earthquake, the best protection you can offer your pets is a crate or carrier. Some dog crate brands have made claims that they are sturdy enough to be “earthquake-proof.” While we can’t speak to these particular claims, it is worth looking into heavy-duty crates; the opposite can be said for cat carriers, which should be lightweight enough (but not flimsy) to be easily portable.
After a Disaster
Don’t let your pets roam loose
Your pet will be anxious to explore and stretch his legs after being cooped up, but you should keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers while you assess any damage to your home and property. The house might not be secure, and familiar landmarks and smells might be gone. This will likely upset your pet, which could lead to him fleeing and becoming lost.
If your pet is lost…
Check shelters, kennels, and boarding facilities; bring a photo and description of your missing pet. Let them know if your pet is microchipped or has any medical conditions or behavioral issues, should he or she turn up. Alert your neighbors and anyone else who can be on the lookout.
Behavioral issues may initially arise in your pets after a disaster. They will be recovering from a shock just as you are, so it’s best to get them back into their normal routines as soon as possible. Contact your veterinarian if these problems continue, or if your pet seems to be having any health issues.
Rest easier with your pets this season, knowing you have a disaster preparedness plan in place!